From Yorkshire to Phuket: How a British Couple Sparked a Rabies Revolution

John and Gill Dalley

When John and Gill Dalley retired from their jobs in Yorkshire, England to the Thai island of Phuket, they expected a quiet life on the beach. But after witnessing the plight of Phuket’s large population of diseased and neglected street dogs, their plans changed. The couple joined forces with friend Margot Homburg to launch Soi Dogs, a small initiative treating and sterilizing strays. What began as a modest operation quickly snowballed over the next 20 years into the world’s largest rabies control program.

According to the CDC, rabies kills almost 60,000 people a year. They state, “exposure to rabid dogs is still the cause of over 90% of human exposures to rabies and of 99% of human rabies deaths worldwide.” Reducing rabies in dogs therefore can have a huge impact on the incidence of rabies globally.

The Soi Dogs clinic

Soi Dogs now employs 470 staff, runs a major animal hospital, and has vaccinated and neutered over one million animals across Thailand. The foundation pioneered the “catch, neuter, vaccinate and return” approach, which traps strays, sterilizes and immunizes them against rabies and other diseases, then returns them to their communities. This technique, conducted continuously across districts, humanely reduces stray populations while controlling the spread of rabies. Soi Dogs operates 16 mobile clinics implementing this protocol in Bangkok and southern Thailand.

Early on, the program faced tragedy, nearly ending when Gill contracted sepsis after rescuing a dog. Days later, the 2004 tsunami killed 8,000 in Thailand, including Gill’s close friend. However, Gill persevered despite needing prosthetic legs, expanding Soi Dogs with incoming aid. Her efforts with John contributed to a 90 percent decrease in Phuket’s strays, down to 6,000 from 70,000. Studies also found Soi Dogs’ work slashes rabies cases and improves public attitudes about dogs.

As Thailand aims to eliminate rabies this decade, Soi Dogs’ model offers hope for other regions battling stray overpopulation and disease. The British couple’s retirement plans may have gone up in smoke, but their compassion sparked a rabies revolution saving countless animal and human lives.

(Gill Dalley died from cancer in 2017.)

Read the complete article by Sarah Newey, published December 7, 2023 in The Telegraph.

Soi Dogs:

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